Education Minister David Eggen was at St. Patrick’s Community School in Red Deer in April, announcing modernization funding for the school, joined by (left to right) Principal Terri Lynn Mundorf, Red Deer North MLA Kim Schreiner and Red Deer South MLA Barb Miller. Advocate file photo/Paul Cowley

Education minister says school fees elimination an ongoing process

Not a free ride but certainly a reduced ride: Red Deer public district

With more school fees being reduced by Alberta Education, at least one school district is growing a little nervous that parents may arrive at school in the fall thinking there won’t be any fees at all.

Education Minister David Eggen told the Advocate on Wednesday that 33,000 students and their families across Alberta will benefit from the reduction of bus costs for students who use municipal transportation and live more than 2.4 km from school.

Over 600,000 students will benefit from the elimination of instructional supplies and material fees. The Act to Reduce School Fees, Bill 1, also requires that school districts get Alberta Education approval for any other school fee increases that are higher than five per cent.

Eggen said said the province saw bus transporation as a good place to start to reduce fees, and while he did look at extending it to less than 2.4 km, “I was working within a budget quite frankly.”

“I couldn’t eliminate school fees but I sure made a good stab at reducing school fees.” He said it’s an ongoing process and he’s still looking for funds and ways to make life more affordable for Alberta families.

“I’m not going to stop reducing school fees here over the next couple of years.” Bill 1 will see the province sped $58 million overall to reduce fees, including those for transportation.

School boards have been very co-operative and they recognize the need to do this, he said. “We’re not putting them out, we are of course financing it,” Eggen said. The province will spend $58 million overall in Bill 1 to reduce fees.

When asked whether there was any thought of simply increasing the per student grant and letting local school districts make the decisions about fees, Eggen said there had not been.

School fees are quite onerous, for families and especially those with more than one child in school, he said.

Red Deer Public School District superintendent Stu Henry said with regards to the 2.4-km criterion, he agreed there has to be a cut-off line somewhere, and it’s a reasonable expectation for parents to get their kids to school if they’re within that dividing line.

The province’s new transportation funding would mean that, in the public district for example, parents of middle and high school students will no longer have to pay the $75 annual fee to the district, which provides for a restricted municipal city Transit pass, for students living more than 2.4 km from a designated school. (Parents of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools pay no transportation fees for students who reside more than 2.4 km from their designated school.)

The transportation fee reduction is a good thing for the district and parents,” Henry said. “Our bigger worry has to do with school fees.”

Red Deer Public Schools is concerned that the average parent will come to school and think no one is going to ask for any money. “That’s just not going to be the case. The government has done a great job of eliminating some school fees, but there’s still going to be school fees,” Henry said.

In high school for example, options and field trips are very expensive in high school, and a student taking three high-profile options it’s still going to be an expense, he said.

“It’s not going to be a free ride but it’s certainly going to be a reduced ride,” Henry said.

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